California, home to 1 in 10 U.S. state prison inmates, is getting a nudge from the federal courts to move faster to revamp its overcrowded prisons, says the Christian Science Monitor. Already moving on an extensive $7.7 billion plan to expand prison capacity, the state faces federal pressure to oversee another $7 billion in upgraded healthcare facilities for prison inmates. The legislature this week will examine a request to approve the spending, which would require new borrowing. The tab of nearly $15 billion for prisons has dismayed lawmakers faced with a $16 billion budget deficit that has prompted huge proposed cuts in spending on education and health care.
At near double capacity with almost 172,000 inmates in 33 facilities, California’s problems reflect a national pattern. Years of tough crime policies, including “three strikes you’re out” laws and harsher parole rules, have resulted in overcrowded prisons and inadequate health services. It is a “cautionary tale as to what can happen when states continually let their prison populations grow by passing all sorts of mandatory sentencing laws and parole policies that are tougher on returning prisoners to the system,” says Michael Jacobson of the Vera Institute. Federal receiver J. Clark Kelso’s plan for improving California prison health care includes seven new facilities by mid-2013 to house 10,000 chronically sick or mentally ill inmates now in traditional cells. “This money is for construction of facilities that are desperately needed,” he says. “What we have in Californian prisons is incredibly old and not maintained.”